The arts-centered civic activation platform For Freedoms just debuted the first billboards in their 50 State Initiative, a nationwide project aimed at increasing civic engagement in the lead-up to the 2018 midterm elections. By publishing a 50 State Initiative toolkit and making the powerful, relevant work of contemporary artists available for local arts organizations to exhibit on billboards around the nation, For Freedoms hopes to “inject nuanced, artistic thinking into public discourse.”
The first billboards to go up came through partnerships with the Center for Maine Contemporary Art (CMCA) in Rockland, and projects+gallery, a local commercial arts space in St. Louis. On September 13 CMCA opened a full-scale billboard installation by artist and writer Christopher Myers in the museum’s public courtyard at 21 Winter Street. On view through October 14, the installation places a life raft with food rations and emergency supplies beside a billboard of water that reads “Every Refugee Boat is a Mayflower.”
Just four days later, three billboards went up simultaneously in St. Louis as part of projects+gallery’s citywide series of exhibitions and activations, happening through November. Designed by Hank Willis Thomas, Michele Pred, and Derrick Adams, the billboards encourage civic participation, question the criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement, and express support for choice in healthcare.
“During a time when shared beliefs are challenged and discouraged, it is imperative that we remember that we are all connected,” said projects+gallery founder and project organizer, Susan Barrett. “Individually we are enlightened; collectively we are transformed.” The billboards will be up through November and are located just north of downtown St. Louis, in a far west suburb, and off the major interstate I-44.
From June to July this summer, For Freedoms raised $172,264 on Kickstarter by state, to fund 52 billboards all over the nation. Each state and Puerto Rico will be getting a crowdfunded For Freedoms billboard before the midterms—the first of these are going up in October. That, plus all of the partnership events and exhibitions that museums and arts organizations big and small are hosting around the country, not to mention the extra billboards, town halls, and even lawn signs through grassroots efforts made possible through the toolkit, For Freedoms is poised to inject the arts into civic discourse at a new level.
Their message? Democracy is group effort, or as For Freedoms puts it, “citizenship is defined by participation.” If there’s an issue or movement you feel passionate about, get involved and connect with a community of people who care like you do. For Freedoms is hosting 50 State Initiative events around the country through November, giving people a place to start.
Centered around the vital work of artists, we hope that these exhibitions and related projects will model how arts institutions can become civic forums for action and discussion of values, place, and patriotism.
—the For Freedoms mission